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Ode to May 2020

By Dean Whittaker

What an incredible month it’s been. Webinars led, webinars attended, and an unplanned surgery. Meanwhile, stay-at-home orders remain for much of Michigan, though we are opening gradually. A webinar I gave for American Electric Power communities focused on the results of a national survey of business responses to COVID-19. As mentioned in our April Whittaker Report, the survey was conducted by a consortium of 350 economic development organization over a 2-month period.  

Later that week, I found myself in the hospital for the removal of bladder stones. Now on the surface, this doesn’t sound like a good thing, but ultimately it was an incredible experience both in terms of the surgeon and the hospital team. The quality of care was outstanding, for which I’m forever grateful. After a quick recovery, I resumed my work with economic development groups, industrial real estate brokers and executive coaching. It is a privilege and an honor to work with individuals, organizations and communities to help them create a better future.  

Later in the month, I heard a webinar by Peter Zeihan, a geopolitical strategist, speaking on the topic of the pandemic’s effect on the world economies. Zeihan noted the impact on several areas including: 1) We will begin operating a parallel healthcare system (which I experienced): one track for covid-19 patients only and the other for on-demand health care likely with separate facilities and staff. Zeihan felt that the current situation is going to be propelling us towards a socialized medicine system for covid-19 treatment receiving public fund while other healthcare needs will be covered by group or individual insurance plans. 2) He went on to say that consumption-led economies, like the US and Mexico will become more localized and will fare much better than export-led economies such as China. The export led economies will suffer as we become more nationalistic in our approach and more self-sufficient within our borders. He said that there will be a significant disruption to businesses’ supply chains as companies find new domestic sources for their needs. 3) Finally, Zeihan underscores how globalization and free trade will end or be greatly reduced as United States withdraws from defending the shipping lanes throughout the world as our navies have done since World War II.  

During the third week of May I participated as a panelist in an Ohio Economic Development Institute webinar. Five panelists from local and state economic development organizations discussed how Ohio companies are responding to covid-19. Each panelist was asked to answer three questions: 1. What are economic development organizations learning from the business retention outreach efforts? 2. How will covid-19 change the practice of business retention and expansion?  3. How will covid-19 change the practice of economic development? 

The consensus was that small businesses were impacted the most by covid-19 with many of them with less than 30-days of cash available to weather the storm.  It was also felt that BRE will have a much broader constituency across more sectors than previously with many small businesses reaching out to their local economic development organizations for the first time.  Lastly, economic development will change as to the skill set required will broaden to include new areas such as executive coaching, supply chain support, finance and entrepreneurship start up.

Rounding out the month on Memorial Day, my spouse gave me my fourth stay-at-home haircut. Each one has gotten better (and shorter).  Later that day, while tending my garden, I wore my face mask when I visited my raised-bed garden to protect the other gardeners (and myself) from a possible covid-19 virus; my new normal.  

As we emerge from our stay-at-home restrictions, please remember to maintain social distancing, wash your hands and wear your face mask when in large public gatherings.  The life you save may be your own, or a stranger’s grandmother’s! “We are all in this together.” 

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